1 New York JETS

A big, bad and ever-improving tackle should clear a path to the postseason
September 05, 2010

HBO's Hard Knocks television cameras turned the Jets' Cortland, N.Y., training camp into a working set this August, but Rex Ryan's team, in some ways, already resembled the titular group from one of that channel's staples, the 2001 movie Ocean's Eleven. The Jets are a brash and entertaining mishmash of highly skilled specialists brought together in the hope that they will collectively achieve that greatest of NFL heists: making off with the Super Bowl trophy, which the franchise hasn't won in 42 years.

Call them Ryan's Fifty-three.

This, perhaps, is where the comparison begins to break down, as it would require Ryan to assume George Clooney's role. "Rex is, uh, a little rougher around the edges," says quarterback Mark Sanchez. Still, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson plays along. "I'd probably just be the black guy—Don Cheadle, you know?" he says. "I'm not Brad Pitt."

Ferguson, who has started every game since New York drafted him No. 4 overall out of Virginia in 2006, appreciates the audacity of his coach and his teammates. "It's enjoyable to see the hams on the team, like your [linebacker] Bart Scotts, your [nosetackle] Kris Jenkinses," he says. "We're the type of team that's like, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do. If you don't like it, screw you.' "

Ferguson is content to cede the limelight to other incumbents and the Jets' starry newcomers. During the off-season they traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was seventh in the league in receiving yards, and signed free-agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a two-time rushing champ, and defensive end Jason Taylor, the NFL's active leader in sacks, with 127½. "I think because we have so many guys who are outspoken, that void has kind of been filled, and I can lead in other ways," Ferguson says.

The addition of four players with a combined 12 career Pro Bowl selections will help, but for the Jets to win the Super Bowl that they have so often predicted for themselves, they must receive a significantly improved performance from their second-year QB. Sanchez is quick to confirm all of the things he must upgrade. A 63.0 quarterback rating? "Yes." A 12-to-20 TD-to-interception ratio? "Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Check 'em all." And Sanchez's ability to improve will hinge on Ferguson, who quietly protects his blind side. Says Jenkins, "He just comes in, straps it up and does his job."

The 6' 6", 310-pound Ferguson participated in the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2009, even though he allowed eight sacks, twice as many as the season before. But that number was belied by two factors. First, he was protecting a jittery rookie rather than Brett Favre. "I'm sitting back there patting the ball, taking way too much time," admits Sanchez. Second, Ryan and offensive line coach Bill Callahan rarely gave Ferguson help, allowing them to deploy blockers elsewhere. "You look at that game against Indianapolis"—a 30--17 AFC Championship Game loss—"and he's going against Dwight Freeney, who's an unbelievable player," Ryan says. "And [Ferguson] is the only guy in the league, I guarantee you, who doesn't have help on him." Freeney didn't record a QB hit, let alone a sack, and Sanchez had one of his best games as a pro, throwing for 257 yards and two touchdowns. "Brick's sick," says Sanchez. "He's like Revis, but an O-lineman."

That Ferguson would ever be compared with a player of cornerback Darrelle Revis's caliber seemed doubtful after Ferguson's first two seasons, in which he allowed 23 sacks. "He was smaller, lighter, not as strong—very athletic, but he wasn't there yet," says Taylor, who as a Dolphin used to regularly exploit Ferguson. "Now I think he's one of the better left tackles in the league."

Even though Revis's contract holdout (at press time the runner-up in last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting had yet to report to camp) might force Ryan to start the season shorthanded, his Ferguson-anchored offense should now approach the caliber of his fierce defense, which was the NFL's best in 2009. The most precious of spoils—the seven pounds of sterling silver known as the Lombardi Trophy—is there for the Jets' taking.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH REX RYAN

OFFENSE

2009 RANK: 20

QB MARK SANCHEZ

G 15

ATT 364

COMP 196

PCT 53.8

YARDS 2,444

TD 12

INT 20

RATING 63.0

RB SHONN GREENE

G 14

ATT 108

YARDS 540

AVG 5.0

REC 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

TTD 2

FB TONY RICHARDSON

G 16

ATT 7

YARDS 48

AVG 6.9

REC 3

YARDS 10

AVG 3.3

TTD 0

WR JERRICHO COTCHERY

G 14

REC 57

YARDS 821

TTD 4

WR BRAYLON EDWARDS

G 16

REC 45

YARDS 680

TTD 4

TE DUSTIN KELLER

G 16

REC 45

YARDS 522

TTD 2

LT D'BRICKASHAW FERGUSON

G 16

HT 6'6"

WT 310

LG VLADIMIR DUCASSE (R)

G 11

HT 6'5"

WT 325

C NICK MANGOLD

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 307

RG BRANDON MOORE

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 305

RT DAMIEN WOODY

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 327

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 1

DE SHAUN ELLIS

G 15

TACKLES 53

SACKS 6½

INT 0

NT KRIS JENKINS

G 6

TACKLES 13

SACKS 0

INT 0

DE MIKE DEVITO

G 15

TACKLES 28

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB BRYAN THOMAS

G 16

TACKLES 53

SACKS 2

INT 0

LB BART SCOTT

G 16

TACKLES 92

SACKS 1

INT 0

LB DAVID HARRIS

G 16

TACKLES 127

SACKS 5½

INT 2

LB CALVIN PACE

G 12

TACKLES 55

SACKS 8

INT 0

CB KYLE WILSON (R)

G 14

TACKLES 43

SACKS 1

INT 3

FS BRODNEY POOL

G 11

TACKLES 50

SACKS 1

INT 4

SS JIM LEONHARD

G 16

TACKLES 76

SACKS 2½

INT 1

CB ANTONIO CROMARTIE

G 16

TACKLES 33

SACKS 0

INT 3

SPECIAL TEAMS

P STEVE WEATHERFORD

PUNTS 80

AVG 42.0

NET 36.7

K NICK FOLK

FG 18--28

XP 36--36

POINTS 90

PR JERRICHO COTCHERY

RET 23

AVG 10.3

TD 0

KR BRAD SMITH

RET 10

AVG 31.0

TD 1

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 9--7

September

13 Baltimore (M)

19 New England

26 at Miami

October

3 at Buffalo

11 Minnesota (M)

17 at Denver

24 BYE

31 Green Bay

November

7 at Detroit

14 at Cleveland

21 Houston

25 Cincinnati (T)

December

6 at New England (M)

12 Miami

19 at Pittsburgh

26 at Chicago

January

2 Buffalo

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T16

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .500

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 6

ANALYSIS

The Jets were streaky last season as an upstart; as the division favorite they're set up for an emotional roller coaster ride this year, beginning with three divisional matchups in their first four games. Starting in Week 10, revenge will be on the minds of Braylon Edwards, Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes: During a six-game stretch each has a showdown with his former team.

SPOTLIGHT

Nick Folk, Kicker

REX RYAN'S August bluster extended all the way down his roster to his new placekicker. "I want to go on record to say I'm officially not worried about our Pro Bowl kicker anymore," Ryan said. "He really does look good." Heady words about a player who missed 10 field goals as a Cowboy in 2009—the second-highest total in the NFL, even though Dallas cut him with two weeks left in the season. Folk, an earring-wearing, crew-cutted 25-year-old, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, in '07, and succeeded on 20 of his 22 field goal attempts in '08. His troubles last season stemmed not from the yips but from his hip. The rightfooted Folk had surgery to repair a right labral tear in May '09 (two months after the same doctor performed a similar procedure on Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez) and couldn't start kicking until July, three months later than he normally begins preparing for a season. He never felt quite right. "My swing was really punchy last year," he says. "I had no flexibility in my hip."

Folk now says he is ready to deal with the notoriously swirling winds at the Meadowlands (and not just the ones emanating from his coach). But considering New York's improving offense, he's resigned to the possibility that he might not get too many field goal tries. "If I just have to kick extra points and kick off to win a Super Bowl," he says, "I'm game for that."

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERGOT YOUR BACK Ferguson will quietly serve and protect his second-year quarterback. PHOTODAVID BERGMAN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)